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How common are surgical errors?

Among patients undergoing surgery in the United States, approximately 80 times a week a surgical error occurs. Safety advocates note that the surgical errors should never happen. Surgical errors can include when surgical instruments, including sponges, are left behind in a patient during surgery; the wrong surgical procedure is performed; the wrong site on the patient is operated on; or the surgery is performed on the wrong patient altogether.

The estimated number of weekly errors was generated from a review of medical malpractice judgments and settlements from 1990 to 2010. A total of 10,000 events involving surgical errors were discovered by researchers totaling $1.3 billion in damages that were paid as part of settlements. The researchers also took into account the high percentage of victims of surgical errors who do not receive a settlement. Though surgical errors can seem rare, they are serious for victims.

Victims of medical malpractice including wrong-site surgery can suffer physical, financial and emotional harm and damages. Compensation for their damages may be available through a medical malpractice claim. According to researchers, on average, victims collected approximately $232,000 when they were the victim of the wrong procedure; $127,000 when they were the victim of wrong-site surgery; $109,000 when they were the wrong patient operated on; and $86,000 when a foreign body was left inside of them following surgery.

Victims of medical malpractice may suffer medical costs and expenses associated with medical malpractice as well as an inability to work because of the harm they have suffered in addition to pain and suffering damages. As a result, it is important for victims to be familiar with the legal options available to them when they have been harmed by surgical errors.

Source:, "Surgical errors: In ORs, 'never events' occur 80 times a week," Jan. 1, 2013

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